Animals in Entertainment


Zebras at the circus web

What Does "Animals in Entertainment" Mean?

"Animals in Entertainment" refers to any animals who are used to act, perform, fight and/or kill for the enjoyment of humans. Educate yourself about the many different forms of entertainment that mistreat animals, and learn what you can do to help.


Jump to: Swimming with Dolphins | Zoos | Circuses | Rodeos | Traveling and Petting Zoos | Fairs | Other | What Can I Do?

Marine Parks

Animal theme parks are merely a display of mankind’s imposed dominance over nonhuman animals.

In oceans, whales and dolphins travel 35 to 100 miles each day.  Marine park tanks are sometimes as small as 24 by 24 feet wide and 6 feet deep.  Often marine mammals can swim only a few strokes before hitting a wall, forcing them to swim in circles. In the wild, marine mammals are stimulated by their environment. In captivity, the mammals have only seaweed that has been manufactured.  Captive marine mammals cannot engage in their natural behaviors nor interact with members of their social group; therefore it is virtually impossible for them to maintain a family unit. They cannot act on their basic instincts.  One result is that many of these mammals engage in stereotypical behaviors, becoming abnormally bored, depressed, or aggressive.   We encourage people to boycott theme parks that hold animals captive.

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Swimming with Dolphins

In recent years, “swim-with-the-dolphin” adventures have become increasingly popular with vacationers and resort-goers who visit tropical ports aboard cruise ships.  If you don’t think too deeply about it, a swim-with-the-dolphin experience may seem like a unique, harmless way to get an up-close look at some of the world’s most intelligent, fun-loving sea mammals. We can understand why people love dolphins and why many would like to see them close up, but putting dolphins in tanks or small pools for our entertainment is wrong.  What many people don’t know or haven’t considered is that most attractions designed to expose humans to dolphins do not enhance the lives of the dolphins involved.  Not only are these programs bad for dolphins, they aren’t entirely safe for people, either.  Dolphins are highly intelligent creatures who want and need to live in complex social groups. In captivity, dolphins usually have been separated from their families, often in cruel hunts and some when they are very young.  In the wild, dolphins can swim up to 100 miles a day, playing and hunting.  However, In captivity they have very little space and cannot behave naturally. A concrete tank cannot replace their ocean home. The physical, emotional and mental stress that captive dolphins suffer can weaken their immune system and make them prone to disease. Even though captive dolphins are kept in an environment free of pollution, predators, other threats, still they die young.

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Animals in zoos are forced to live in artificial, stressful, and downright boring conditions. Removed from their natural habitats and social structures, they are confined to small, restrictive environments that deprive them of mental and physical stimulation. While zoos claim to provide conservation, education, and entertainment, their primary goal is to sustain public support in order to increase profits.

Moreover, while zoos generally claim to take in only the neediest of animals, most of the animals in zoos are not endangered, orphaned, or injured at all. A great many are captured from the wild. Those that are in breeding programs seemed destined for a life in captivity, for they are accustomed to an artificial environment where food, shelter, and protection from predators are provided for them. Natural conditions such as climate, habitat, and feeding cannot be properly recreated, and zoos lack sufficient space to reproduce a natural environment, provide a normal social equilibrium of the species, or maintain a healthy gene pool ordered by natural selection. Zoos thus compromise captive animals’ chances of successful introduction into the wild. Additionally, there may be no wilderness left for zoo-bred animals, as humans are destroying their natural habitat at such an alarming rate. The only way to realistically stop extinction is to preserve the world’s habitat and ecosystems.

There are simply very few zoos that practice relevant and reliable research. Those that do mainly examine the physiological structure of a captive animal, as well as the illnesses he or she has acquired. These results however, are obviously skewed towards animals living in captivity. They therefore generate little information about how to best conserve species in the wild.

Living in captivity causes animals to lose their natural disposition to the extent that they become unrepresentative of their species. Therefore, studies of captive animals are of limited benefit to animals in the wild.

Many animals held in captivity begin to form abnormal symptoms referred to as “zoochosis.” These neurotic and atypical behaviors occur as a result of boredom, depression, frustration, a lack of mental and physical enrichment, and removal from their natural habitat and social structures. Signs of zoochosis include rocking, swaying, pacing, and more.

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Enjoy the circus?  The animals don't.

Life under the big top is not the "wholesome, fun-loving, educational experience" the circus industry would like you to think it is. For the animals, life is monotonous and a brutal routine of boredom, pain, and stress. In short, traveling animal acts perpetuate animal cruelty, inhumane care, distorted images of wildlife, and public safety hazards.

Circus animals are confined virtually all of their lives in barren conditions, while forced to suffer extreme physical and psychological deprivation.  A few examples of this are: Most of their lives are spent in chains or cages with no climate control, sleeping, eating and defecating in the same cage; when allowed out, these animals are trained using extreme "discipline" such as whipping, hitting, poking, and shocking with electrical prods; most itinerary stops are not inspected, even though the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets minimum standards of care.

Wild animal acts also pose a significant threat to public health and safety. Circus elephants may carry tuberculosis (TB), and can infect humans with the bacterial disease. Public records show that many circuses have used TB-positive elephants in public performances. Local law enforcement agencies may be forced to deal with a loose animal, and circuses are not required by law to carry emergency euthanasia equipment. Since the 1990s, circuses have been responsible for over 100 human injuries worldwide.

Many circuses claim to actively support education and conservation of wild species. A captive life in the circus for elephants consists of shackles measuring as little as five feet in length. In the wild these elephants would have a natural territory covering up to 2,300 square miles. These circuses do nothing to raise awareness of the wild elephant's largest threat today -human encroachment into elephant territory and loss of habitat.  Instead, they spotlight captive breeding programs for animals to be used for entertainment.

Circuses also send the wrong message to children.  Many years ago, a circus may have represented the only exposure a child had to a wild animal. Today our children learn early in school - and through programs such as on Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel - that wild animals live complex and fascinating lives, and have natural instincts, developed over thousands of years. Although the circus industry claims that it trains animals to do the types of tricks they might naturally perform in the wild, in reality animals live their lives looking for food, sleeping, or raising their babies. Costumed bears lying on their backs spinning giant balls, elephants walking on their hind legs then balancing on their heads, or tigers jumping through flames, are not natural behaviors. Circuses perpetuate an outdated attitude that wild animals are ours to use at any cost to their welfare, while pro-animal organizations work to counteract this attitude through outreach and education.

How can you help?

1) Support animal-free circuses. Cirque du Soleil travels the world, performing spectacular theme-based shows with magnificent costumes and acrobatics. The Moisture Festival is a family-oriented comedy and vaudeville style festival held each spring in Seattle.  Circus Smirkus "promotes the skills, culture, and traditions of the traveling circus, inspiring youth to engage in life-changing adventures in the circus arts".  Other circuses that do not use animals can be found at the following website:

2) Write letters. When animal circuses are coming to town, write letters to newspaper editors and to the sponsors telling them that circuses don't need to feature wild animals in order to be entertaining. Take notice of organizations and stores that support circuses with free tickets.  Ask these places to stop supporting circuses with animal acts.

3) Educate yourself.  Read news about lawsuits filed against circuses.  Check out videos on YouTube that show cruelty to animals during training and performances.  Go behind the scenes with a camera, if possible.  One example that video footage can prove that circuses with animals are not cool is seen in a video taken by a member of Animal Advocates of WNY, when a circus came to town in 2012:

After the the U.S. Department of Agriculture viewed the video, they cited the animal handler who provided the tiger to this circus for "handling the tiger in a manner that caused her stress and unnecessary discomfort", and also for "failing to maintain the tiger's enclosure in a manner that would protect her from injury."

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Rodeo is another example of organized animal abuse that takes place in the name of "entertainment."

57% of PRCA (Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association) rodeos result in injury or death of the so-called "animal athletes," and the animals who manage to survive are tormented and terrified. The PRCA has rules regarding animal treatment, but the rules are almost never followed. The animals are shocked with 5000-volt electric prods, poked with sharpened sticks, have their tails painfully twisted, and endure other abuses too numerous to mention.

Many members of rodeo organizations, including the PRCA and stock contractors, often have criminal histories. Even the PRCA's most recent CEO and CFO were both recently convicted on felony charges. Violent people gravitate toward violent activities, and one of the most violent activities in our society is the rodeo.

Thankfully, many rodeos around the country are losing money and closing down. The Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, one of the oldest, recently announced a $1.3 million loss. The Tres Rios rodeo cost local governments more than $225,000 and will not be repeated. A Gallup poll showed that rodeos, previously with a tiny 1% level of interest, are now so unpopular that they no longer show up in such surveys.

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Traveling Zoos and Petting Zoos

Numerous problems exist at roadside zoos - in part, because oversight and enforcement are often lacking. In recent years, the number of penalties issued by federal authorities to small zoos in the eastern half of the United States has remained at a level previously determined to be too low by government auditors.  When enforcement was pursued, it often came years after the violations.

Small zoos are a world away from big-name institutions.  Some are staffed largely by volunteers and are not certified by the national organization that determines whether larger zoos are properly caring for animals. Someone wishing to open a small zoo needs only to fill out a brief application with the USDA, demonstrate knowledge of animals and undergo an inspection. No formal training is  required.

States have the okay to pass laws requiring higher standards of care in zoos, but most of the regulation has fallen to the federal government.  The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires that animal exhibitors be licensed by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in order to ensure that exhibitors meet the AWA’s minimal requirements regarding animal care.  Although the AWA requires that exhibitors provide animals with sufficient food and water and enough room to stand up, turn around, and lie down, no government agency can effectively regulate or enforce the humane treatment of animals who are continuously on the road.

Traveling zoos and petting zoos are bad news for both animals and humans.  Animals are subjected to the stress of transport, irregular feeding and watering, alien environments, mishandling, and crowds of strangers. Many children and adults have been mauled by tigers, primates, and other animals who are used as props in photo shoots, and countless people have been sickened - and some have died - after contracting diseases from animals in petting zoos.

Animals used in traveling exhibitions are almost constantly confined to tiny transport cages or trailers. They suffer in extreme temperatures and are denied adequate food and water because their transporters don’t want to bother with frequent stops to feed and water the animals and clean their cages. Without exercise, animals become listless and prone to illness.  As a reaction to stress and boredom, they may resort to self-mutilation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited many traveling zoos for violations. For example, a Texas-based traveling zoo has been cited repeatedly for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to tigers and failure to provide tigers with food that can keep the animals in good health. In 2010, the USDA issued a citation for the same traveling zoo.   USDA inspectors noted that circumstances like these indicate that violations of the Animal Welfare Act may have contributed to the deaths of roadside zoo animals. Another of these zoos was cited for failure to provide veterinary care to three 11-day-old tiger cubs who died two days after being acquired and transported from Ohio to Iowa and Colorado. The tiger cubs had been used for "photo opportunities" with the public, the day before their deaths. The USDA inspector suspected that stress related to transportation and handling contributed to their failed health.

One "Wildlife Refuge" forced a tiger cub named Ziggy to work a six-hour photo shoot in the sweltering parking lot of a store, as documented in undercover video footage.  The cub developed painful blisters on his paws from standing on hot pavement all day.

Children who visit petting zoos often bring home serious pathogens, including E. coli and salmonella bacteria, through direct or even indirect animal contact. Children who come into contact with E. coli can develop bloody diarrhea, anemia, chronic kidney failure, or neurological impairments such as seizures or strokes.

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Animals in Fairs

Fair season in many parts of the United States marks a time when thousands of people will descend upon their local fairgrounds to play games, enter competitions and to showcase the finest selection of their pumpkin harvest. But there’s a darker side to what goes on underneath the tents and in the grassy fields. Animals become a spectacle at a hefty price.

People who use animals for entertainment usually try to justify it by calling the display “educational" -- and that’s exactly what the organizers of a disturbing exhibit at a New York State Fair in Syracuse are doing. The fair includes a “Dairy Cow Birthing Center,” where pregnant cows are taken into a loud, unfamiliar carnival tent and surrounded by crowds of staring strangers while they give birth. All mothers need comfort and security during the very personal experience of childbirth. To reduce it to a public spectacle is a blatant display of disrespect.

The exhibit could explain that cows produce milk for the same reason that human mothers do -- to feed their babies. Dairy farmers keep cows almost constantly pregnant and tear their babies away from them within days, or even hours, of birth so that the milk that’s meant for their offspring can be sold instead. The fair could also display what farmers themselves refer to as a “rape rack,” on which cows are artificially inseminated over and over again, or it could tell people that because the dairy industry has no use for male calves, they’re often sold for veal. Forcing a mother cow to go through labor surrounded by noisy, pointing strangers won’t teach the public anything about what occurs on dairy farms.

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Other Venues

Animals are also exploited and mistreated for human amusement in horse and greyhound racing, cockfighting and dog fighting, and in shopping malls and schools where they are put on public display or even brought in as rides, like elephant or camel rides. Unfortunately, people can be very creative in finding ways to make a profit off of other animals.

We strongly oppose the use of animals in all entertainment venues.

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What Can You Do about Animals in Entertainment?

Please use the following links to visit websites at which you can learn more about this issue and how you can help the animals:
BornFreeUSA is a national animal advocacy nonprofit organization whose mission is to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, rescue individual animals in need, protect wildlife - including highly endangered species - in their natural habitats, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.
In Defense of Animals - You can be a strong advocate for animals in circuses and zoos.  Several suggested actions you can can be found at this website.
Animals In Entertainment Factsheets -- from PETA
Animals in Entertainment -- from Friends of Animals
Empty the Cages! How We’re Fighting for the Freedom of Animals Used for Entertainment; from One Green Planet, a platform for the growing compassionate and eco-conscious generation.

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PHOTO by Usien (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated" ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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